Friday, July 16, 2010

Paying Attention to a Problem

blog120 I went, reluctantly, to Walmart this morning. It’s possibly my most un-favorite place on Earth, but there are some things I’ve just got to get there.

One of those things is sunflower seeds for the birdfeeders in our back yard. I can get one huge bag there and it’ll last for nearly a season.

Usually I get a 30ish pound bag but today I got greedy and pulled out—with some difficulty—a 50 pound bag. I could barely move it off the shelf! Finally I just shoved it onto the bottom of the shopping buggy and proceeded to checkout.

I noticed there was a sort of dragging sound going on as I pushed the cart. I figured this meant the bag was dragging on the floor, but I chose to ignore that fact—I really wasn’t sure if I could move the bag into a better position and I sure couldn’t put it inside the cart. Maybe at the registers, someone could give me a hand with it.

Finally a man stopped me. “Ma’am. The bag is going to break open and that seed is going to fly all over creation.” I looked over at checkout—just 25 yards away. He repeated sternly, “Ma’am, it’s going to break. And they’re going to make you pay for it and it’s going to be all over the store.”

Oh. Well there was that. He helped me move the bag a little.

I bring this up because this same sort of thing happened last week to me with my manuscript. I’m a fan of just bolting through the first draft and fix the mess later.

But something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it and didn’t really want to analyze the dragging sound coming from the text because I was in a hurry to get the draft done.

Then I stopped myself and thought about the manuscript as a whole—the individual characters and the plot itself (without flipping through the story, which makes me want to do a major edit.)

Finally I figured it out. The murder victim was a problem. Something wasn’t right. And after I shoved some things around in the story for a few minutes, she was much better. For one thing, I realized she wasn’t the right age. She needed to be younger. For another, I realized that there was an angle with her relationship with her daughter that needed to be played up more—the motivation for her actions didn’t ring true and it was trickling through the plot.

Figuring out the problem? Ten minutes. Fixing the age of the character and creating some motivation for a relationship issue? Ten minutes. And now I don’t have to worry about the problem getting worse as I head out to checkout with my manuscript.

Have you done a manuscript check-up lately?

Please come back by Hart Johnson’s Confessions of a Watery Tart for a review of Delicious and Suspicious. Thanks Hart!

I also wanted to give a shout-out to Michele Emrath who so kindly featured my book on her blog, Southern City Mysteries today. Thanks!